corn-laak.jpg Maximo was already in the office when Pia arrived the following morning after her dinner with her school friends. Pia admired Max, who was in charge of Marketing. During brainstorming sessions, he would come up with the most creative and ingenious ideas to market and launch the new products they were introducing to the public.

“Hello, Max.”

“Good morning, Pia!”

Pia went over to her desk and sat down. She studied the papers in a file on her table. She was thinking of her discussion strategies for the meeting that they were going to have in the afternoon on the wine account.

“That American wine merchant dropped by yesterday evening after you left,” Max said, without taking his eyes from his work. “He talked with Danny and Goro.”

“What does Goro have to do with an international account?” Pia asked, looking up at Max. Goro was working in the Domestic Section of the company.

Danny, the Chief Executive Officer, would often arrive late at the office, leave in the afternoon, supposedly to have conference meetings on the golf course, then come back in the early evening to return phone calls and sign papers. At closing time, Danny would be there at his desk, looking quite dedicated and worthy of esteem, waving an exasperated good-bye to employees finishing their day. Pia was quite sure that many companies have risen to the top in part because of company heads with honourable qualities, but also owing to employees with leadership attributes.

Max shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t ask me,” he said. “I doubt Danny knows what goes on in this company.”

“I’ve decided to recommend the French wine account, Max. I think it’s better for the image of the company to be trading in a quality product, in spite of the limited market base. The competing product may be of good quality as well, but it does not have the historical distinction of a French wine coming from a nobleman’s château or a patriarchal family business. Lortan is coming to Manila next week for a meeting with us. I hope I can convince Danny of the merits of my recommendation before he arrives.”

Henri Lortan was a wine connoisseur with a family heritage of vineyards in Bordeaux. He had an office in Tokyo and was considering expanding his business to cover the rest of Asia. French wine is a huge success in Japan.

“So what marketing strategy do you suggest?” Max asked.

“Well, there are important considerations before we can come up with the right one. First, we have to let the market know what is France–its excellent quality of life and their people’s accomplishments.”

Max stopped his work and moved his swivel chair towards Pia’s desk. “Tell me about France,” he asked.

Pia turned her chair to face Max. “The French culture and the French way of life are the most civilised in the world. Many people of different races and civilisations have contributed positively to the global culture. Among them, the French have strongly influenced the sciences, literature, social discourse, the arts, diplomacy, and philosophy. But what stand out as much as their contribution to the global culture are their brilliant achievements.

“I think that among the most notable of their achievements is their educational system. Aside from catering to the educational needs of the young, France has superior schools specialised in forming the top executives of their nation. Entries to these schools are very competitive. France makes sure that excellent individuals head top posts in the country’s private and public sectors. France provides its youth with a national objective.

“So, after the war, France entrusted these young leaders with the responsibility for their economy. Their dynamism and innovative ideas changed France from a sluggish pre-war country to the progressive nation it is today. These young technocrats transformed France. Among many innovations, the French government nationalised those enterprises that were considered necessary for economic recovery.

“In the industrial and technological fields, France is Europe’s leader. France is unmatched in the efficient use of nuclear power generation for their energy consumption. In the fields of aeronautics and space research, telecommunication, and commercial transportation in Europe, the French are in the lead. Their high-speed passenger trains and their transportation system are among the most modern in the world. They dominate Europe’s space industry. The French are strong in significant economic areas of the future.

“What do these achievements say for France? That the French individual has the personal will to excel in whatever field he or she has chosen, and the determination to change things, among them, antiquated traditional thoughts. Their assertiveness and their initiatives have contributed to their country’s greatness.”

Pia had stood up to get coffee while she was speaking. She handed Max a cup and sat back at her desk. “Tell me about their quality of life,” Max asked.

“Their country is not overpopulated, not only as a result of the War, but also because they have not allowed religion to shape the way they run their nation, nor have they allowed it to run their lives. The French live well, and they eat well.”

“So now you come to their gastronomic achievements.”

“Yes,” Pia said, smiling. “France leads in gastronomy. Her agricultural sector was strongly modernised after the War, and she is the leading food producer in Europe. French cuisine is unsurpassable, and the French are proud of one of their best agricultural products, their wine.”

The rest of the staff had started to arrive. They murmured quick greetings and went straight to their desks to work.

“There is the market to consider,” Max continued.

“If we address those who are educated and dynamic, then there is a market out there. They are the ones intelligent enough to assimilate new ideas.”

“Well, we should do more than just put wine bottles on store shelves. Every wine label must have a story to tell,” Max thought out loud. “We could organise an Exhibition of different wines from every region of France. We should tell the Filipinos about the French quality of life. Perhaps we should also import their cheese…. It’s not enough to start something. It has to be sustained.”

Pia remembered from her Humanities class on the subject of the great civilisations of the world, that it was from the Chinese that the Europeans modelled their educational system in the 19th century. The Chinese had a rigorous educational system for the civil service dating back to the Ming dynasty in the 14th century. Adopting what others have found to be the better way is what progress is all about.

“Prepare a convincing presentation, Pia,” Max said, returning to his desk. “I’ll support you at the meeting.”

Pia went back to studying the documents on her table. After perusing them for a while, she sat back on her chair and remembered a story her mother had related at dinner about a young commoner who fell in love with a beautiful princess. When their love was discovered, he was banished from the kingdom. He then spent the rest of his life being a purposeless vagabond travelling far and wide. After a long period of time and through unbelievable adventures, the princess and the commoner were finally reunited. But the princess had, meanwhile, turned into a fat hag, and him, an old man. In the end, he decided that the sombre pursuit of cultivating a garden was the best occupation for one to do. Pia then sat forward, going back to her work. No one should decide your life, except yourself. She thought, if only the Filipinos would take their lives in their hands, and not allow constraining social traditions and religious dogmas to toss them this way and that….

The office door was brusquely opened and Danny strode in, in that familiar manner of his, appearing to be in a hurry, as if time was precious and must not be lost. But he was late, as usual.

“Pia!” he called out. “Can I see you in my office? Bring your files on the wine account. Where’s Goro? Tell him to see me as soon as he arrives.”

Danny sat down at his desk. He pressed a button on his intercom and spoke. “Bring me coconut juice, please.” Pia sat down in front of his wooden name plaque with her hastily gathered files on her lap. Danny rifled through the papers on his table, looking for nothing in particular.

“What will you be proposing at the meeting this afternoon, Pia?” Danny asked. But before Pia could answer, Danny spoke again. “We’ll opt for American wine. It’s cheaper and the masses go for anything stateside. I talked with that wine merchant last night.”
“Sir,” Pia said, “with all due respect, you have put me in charge of the wine account. After careful deliberation, I strongly recommend we import French wine. It is by far a better product.”

“That’s just it, you see, Pia,” Danny said, “that class in our society that can discern quality constitutes a minority. We have to sell what the masses will buy.”

“Then we have to educate the masses,” Pia replied.

“That will be a tedious process.”

“Then we have to begin now.”

There was a knock at the door, and Goro poked his head through. “You wanted to see me, sir?” he asked.

“Yes,” Danny replied. “Come in and sit down. We’re discussing the wine account.” Goro sat down on the chair beside Pia.

“That American has a cornfield, too,” Goro told Pia. “We can also import corn from him at a good price.” Pia regarded Goro with disdain. For him and many Filipinos like him, economic nationalism was an incomprehensible concept.

“Take two very similar ears of corn,” Pia said. “One is home-grown by a hardworking Filipino farmer who has to feed a family of six, and the other comes from the American. The latter is rich because you buy his products and hence the Filipino farmer is poor. I can understand when we import something we don’t have, but we have corn.”

“You don’t know the market,” Goro huffed. “The Filipinos will buy anything American. Who cares about the Filipino farmer?”

“Most of the people,” Pia responded, “live in the rural area where agriculture is the main industry. But they are migrating to the city because they cannot make a living on their produce. The government’s push for industrialisation is commendable, but it is a stopgap measure for a problem that has a far more simple solution. Seventy percent of the Filipino population is in the agricultural sector. If social peace is to be maintained, investment in the rural area is essential.”

“We are here,” Goro replied, “to make money. Let the government take care of the people.”

“The government cannot do it alone. The private sector has a social responsibility, and their collaboration is vital. Goro, think that when all is said and done, you would have contributed nothing to humanity.”

“Well, since I’m the boss around here,” Danny concluded, “I say we buy from the Americans.”

“I cannot agree with you, sir,” Pia said.

“Well Pia, in any case, Goro will be in charge of the wine account. Give him your files.” Then with an impatient wave of his hand, he said, “That will be all.”

Outside Danny’s office, Goro parted with a jeer, “Pia, keep to your kitchen which is a woman’s place.”

“Goro,” Pia retorted, squinting her eyes in a show of repugnance, “there are many women who are far cleverer than most men. Only cretins like you think all men are superior to women. Balls for brains, that’s your trouble.” Pia turned her back and returned to her desk.